For centuries, bison grazed in the area known now as Banff National Park and helped shape the ecosystem.
But after being absent from the wild for more than a century, the free-roaming bisons have been successful translocated to Panther Valley in the national park, a move which coincides with the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation.
The restoration of bison to Banff will hopefully establish a new wild population and help with national and international bison conservation efforts.
For 16 months, the bison will remain in an enclosed pasture in the Panther Valley, closely monitored by Parks Canada. In approximately June 2018, the herd will be released to explore the full ~1200km2 reintroduction zone in the remote eastern slopes of Banff where they will interact with other native species, forage for food and fulfill their missing role in the ecosystem.
The return of the bisons is the first step in a five-year pilot project by Parks Canada designed to restore wild bison to the park.
In early 2017, Parks Canada selected 16 healthy bison (primarily pregnant two year olds) for transfer to Banff. Prior to transfer, these animals were quarantined for three weeks and underwent health testing to ensure they were free of diseases of concern (e.g., bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis).
Last month, the animals were loaded into shipping containers, custom modified to safely transport bison. They were transported overnight by truck approximately 400 km to the government-owned Ya Ha Tinda Ranch near the border of Banff National Park.
Upon arrival at the ranch, the bison remained in the containers overnight where they were closely monitored by Parks Canada staff.
The following morning, the shipping containers were airlifted by helicopter to a “soft-release” pasture in Banff’s Panther Valley. Once released in the pasture, Parks Canada staff will continue to monitor the health of the herd and ensure the new arrivals have access to food and water.
The bison will be kept in the soft release pasture for approx.. 16 months before being released in 2018 to roam freely in the reintroduction zone within Banff National Park.
Photo credit: Johane Janelle/Parks Canada